we should have been looking for opals

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I followed two stray cats around campus today until I couldn’t follow anymore—passageways and green-foliaged hallowed halls two feet weren’t meant to tread; no Pomp and Circumstance, educated in the rules of nature, survivalist dictated, graduated in nine lives. I chased them as I chased shadows. Waves of nostalgia crept over me in shivers; $15,000 worth of goosepimples.

 

I sat there and read Brautigan, drinking coffee by the creek that ran through campus like an elegy. Worlds, like vulnerable puddles of thought drowning page, opened before me. My heart ached in between punctuation. Funny how little symbols scribbled on page, hunt and gathered, picked and pattered, can resound so much melancholy joy in one’s soul. I’ll take your words and with my experience, make them fit into my world.

 

“Once, while cleaning the trout before I went home in the almost night, I had a vision of going over to the poor grave-yard and gathering up grass and fruit jars and tin cans and markers and wilted flowers and bugs and weeds and clods and going home and putting a hook in the vise and tying a fly with all the stuff and then going outside and casting it up into the sky, watching it float over clouds and then into the evening star.”

 

A Bachelor of Arts in English and I find myself learning more from a man a quarter of a century in the grave who wrote a handful of books. He almost whispers: Let the creek by your instructor. Note the subtle contours and the lazy eddying pools; every bed is a story carved in time. “This is the only education you need!” the birds seem to scream as they take flight over the low canopy of trees. I tilt my head as if I understand. Limbs 27 years growing and I am still a Sophomore.

 

In those years, I used to carry Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You around like a shield of armor. Leaves crunched beneath my feet, air hung like clouds in front of me on crisp autumn mornings and that slender yellow book made me feel less lonely as I stepped into the fluorescent-lit halls—white tiles shiny as mirrors and grocery store flashy; they bellowed, “This is what we are selling you!” and I would just look around at all the academic packaging and swear we were all drowning in landfills. I didn’t have Brautigan to jar sense into me in those days, to wake my apathetic brain. Words grated against my throat when I tried to speak in class; thoughts escaped in the form of parmesan powder, a farce of when they were whole and completely different before they escaped my lips. Invisibility prevailed. Here I was reading Brautigan where I used to be a mute specter and his words are pulling on my memories like sinews, thoughts wrapped in feelings tied to fishing lures, casting…

 

I see the infiniteness and simplicity of it all. He describes the sun as a silver dollar drenched in kerosene and thrown, burning, into the sky and I burn with it. This is a man who has no limitations grounded in reality—perhaps the Aquarius in him see’s the fluidity of boundaries. There are no constants. My mind becomes a cow, chewing on the grains of his thought, left to roam verdant pastures; placated green splendor.

 

Memories fold and unfold like sheets sunning on the line. Suddenly I am in Lassen looking down at Bumpass Hell—steam and carbon dioxide reacting with minerals and deposits, creating opals in high enough temperatures, and fool’s gold that carries and sparkles in the sulfur channels. There was a fenced off section where one could look down a gaping hole, into the earth, and see an opal reflecting in the light like a compact disc—technology has ruined us. Brautigan would have seen that rainbow light and thought of trout. I guess my mind turns to fool’s gold bubbling into reality while on campus because I feel I spent those three years wading in the noxious fumes, hoping for gold. I can see the Freshman class now, standing on that precipice and no catcher’s in rye to keep them from plummeting head first; we should have been looking for opals.  

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